Johnston County leaders have loosened a requirement that forces developers to leave 15 percent of land on a property as open space or pay a penalty fee.
Currently, developers pay a penalty of $400 per lot when they fail to leave 15 percent of a new housing developments as space. The provision was designed to provide residents in new neighborhoods with recreational space.
But planning director Berry Gray said the rule was too restrictive. A slight miscalculation by a developer could cause him to fall just short of the requirement.
Recently, he said, the planning office had a developer who came up less than an acre short of the required 15 percent. That’s because he needed some additional room for the community’s septic infrastructure.
“It left them a little short of the required 15 percent, but they’re still providing an (open) area,” Gray said.
The developer asked to pay a prorated amount of the fee to make up for the shortcoming, but the rule didn’t allow for that.
Under the rule change, developers must still keep at least 10 percent of a neighborhood open to avoid paying the $400 per-lot fee. Developers who provide between 10 and 15 percent will pay a prorated fee.
Gray said the rule change preserves the original intent of the ordinance but gives developers another option. Commissioner DeVan Barbour agreed.
“It holds true to the current plan but gives flexibility,” he said. “It still keeps the 15 percent in place for all practical purposes.”
Annual tax report
The county collected about 98.7 percent of the taxes it levied this past fiscal year, the highest rate on record, according to tax director Pat Goddard.
The collection rate improved slightly from last year, when it was 98.68 percent. The collection rate has remained stable at around 98 percent since 2005. Overall revenue collected has increased by about $4 million since then.
“Everyone plays their part in making this level of collections possible,” Goddard said. “We really appreciate the citizens of Johnston County coming forward and paying their taxes.”
Although overall collections are up, the motor-vehicle rate is down by 0.78 percentage points. Goddard said her staff is trying to learn to use state’s new tax-and-tag system, which is being phased in gradually, while continuing to use the old system.
Tax and tag will require people to pay their vehicle tax in order to renew their registration. The idea is that more people will pay the tax if it’s tied to their registration, Goddard said. “Either renew it immediately or drive away on an expired plate,” she said.
Commissioner Tony Braswell said he had heard claims at the General Assembly that the collection rate for vehicle taxes tax – normally around 90 percent – will eventually climb to 98 percent. Goddard said she has her doubts.
“It’s a little overstated ... but I believe it will be increased,” she said.
County Manager Rick Hester said Johnston’s high tax-collection rate has helped its bid for better bond ratings. Officials are hoping to leverage that into lower interest rates when the county needs to borrow money for school construction.
“In our recent calls to the bond-rating agencies, tax-collection percentages are a big part of that,” Hester said.